How a grieving mum turned her anger into a force for good

How a grieving mum turned her anger into a force for good
Lori Alhadeff and her husband Ilan hold a picture of their daughter Alyssa, a Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting victim, during a news conference on gun control on Capitol Hill. Picture: Getty

Since her daughter was killed in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School massacre last year, Lori Alhadeff has become an activist, and Alyssa’s Law has now been passed to make schools safer, says Letitia Stein.

After screaming out on national television for US president, Donald Trump, to “please do something” to prevent another school shooting like the one that had just killed her daughter, Lori Alhadeff heeded her own call for action.

She was powerless when gunfire silenced 14-year-old Alyssa, on February 14, 2018. But in the year since 17 people died at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, in Parkland, Florida, Alhadeff has run for the local school board and won. 

She has started a non-profit. She has raised money to equip schools with bulletproof glass and emergency stop-the-bleed kits.

On Wednesday, she was in New Jersey, her former home, to watch the governor sign an Alyssa’s Law, named after her daughter. 

She hopes other states will follow, in requiring schools to have silent panic alarms to notify law enforcement in emergencies.

“I had no control on February 14. And, as a mother, when you have your children, you need control,” Alhadeff said.

“But, now, I have the control. I have this power, and I am using that power by using my voice.”

Alhadeff is among the Parkland parents who have channelled their anguish into advocacy. 

Instead of dance recitals, soccer matches, and marching band performances, their schedules now involve lobbying trips to state capitols, the US Congress, and the White House.

Some served on a state commission that reviewed the Parkland shooting, documenting each failure before and after the firing of the first bullet in a freshmen classroom building. 

Others have waded into partisan politics to campaign for local and federal candidates pledging to do more for school safety. 

For Fred Guttenberg, fighting for gun control is a way to cope when he thinks about the final moments of his daughter, Jaime, who ran down a hallway with a shooter at her back.

“What I have discovered, this year, is I have this need to still be Jaime’s dad,” he said. 

I am not going to ever stop talking about my daughter and what she meant to me — and what the moments without her mean to me.

Success can be both satisfying and hollow.

“It doesn’t bring my son back,” said Max Schachter, who has focused on identifying best practices for school security after his son, Alex, died with Alhadeff’s daughter in English class.

Alhadeff, 43, once ordered her life around her children’s soccer teams. 

She now races between school functions and activities for the non-profit Make Our Schools Safe, which she started after Alyssa’s death.

“I know that she would say to me, if I was like sleeping in bed: ‘Mom, what are you doing? Why are you wasting your time? You need to get out there and fight for me’,” Alhadeff said.

As a stay-at-home mother-of-three, Alhadeff jokingly called herself Alyssa’s personal assistant. 

Alyssa's funeral
Alyssa's funeral

She drove her daughter to the movies, the beach, and sporting events, even laying out her shoes with the laces turned just so for her to slip right on.

While her children were at school, Alhadeff played tennis and grocery shopped. To support their teams, she sold cookies and Gatorade at their soccer games.

Last month, Alhadeff cried while recalling those memories. 

She was again sitting on the sidelines, watching her second child practice soccer, where his sister once played. 

He wears Alyssa’s No 8 on his jersey.

It was at an adjacent park that Alhadeff asked a reporter for a microphone following the school shooting, not long after making preliminary plans for her daughter’s funeral.

Angry with raw grief, she begged Trump, in a live CNN broadcast, to take action, because she said he was the most powerful person who came to mind.

A note held in Donald Trump's hand during a meeting with students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School weeks after the shooting.
A note held in Donald Trump's hand during a meeting with students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School weeks after the shooting.

Late last year, Alhadeff joined a group of Parkland parents to meet with Trump at the White House and discuss a national safety commission he created after the shooting.

Her anger has eased, she said, as she focuses on school safety, as the only new member of the Broward County School Board, where she is calling for the removal of the superintendent in charge when her daughter was killed at school. 

“I don’t see myself as a politician,” Alhadeff said. “I see myself as a mother wanting to make change.”

She has planned a full day to mark the one-year date from Alyssa’s death: grave-site prayers, lunch at her house, a clean-up event at Alyssa’s favourite beach and community memorial. 

Staying busy is better than having too much time to think, she said.

But in quiet moments, when she needs to feel close to Alyssa, Alhadeff dabs on perfume from her daughter’s pink Victoria’s Secret bottle. 

She wears her daughter’s gray sweatshirt with white splotches, which Alyssa bleached in a laundry mishap.

“I am just trying to live for her,” she said.

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